Research Programme

The Consequences of New Living Arrangements in Cross-national Comparison

Brienna Perelli-Harris, Stefanie Hoherz, Marta Styrc

Project summary

Countries throughout Europe and the US are experiencing profound changes in the family, particularly due to increases in cohabitation and union dissolution, as well as childbearing outside of marriage. These changes raise questions about the consequences of these new family arrangements and whether they may be associated with poor outcomes. Previous studies have found that marriage benefits health, wealth, and well-being by providing social support, intimacy, and protection. However, much of the previous research was conducted in earlier decades and usually in the US, when cohabitation was less common and selective of particular characteristics. In addition, most of this research compared the married and unmarried, without distinguishing between cohabiting and single people. Given the increase in the prevalence and duration of cohabitation, it is no longer clear that the act of marriage per se matters for well-being or health; simply forming a lasting partnership may provide similar social and emotional benefits. Thus, it is important to investigate whether new living arrangements now result in similar outcomes as marriage.

This project compares the consequences of new family arrangements in a number of diverse settings that represent different welfare regimes and cultural contexts: Australia, Norway, Germany, the UK, and the US. The collaborative team is systematically analysing a range of partnership behaviours and childbearing in different types of partnerships. The team is exploring a number of outcomes in mid-life, including mental well-being, health, depression, wealth, satisfaction with life, and wage differentials. They primarily employ Propensity Score Matching, or Propensity-score weighted regression, which reduces selection bias by matching respondents with similar characteristics and observing the effect of the treatment, i.e. different living arrangements. By collaborating on methods and measures, the collaborators aim to present a cohesive study that compares the consequences of new family behaviours across countries.


Project activities

Date Activity Description
29 October - 4 November 2017 Presentation at the International Population Conference, Cape Town. Brienna Perelli-Harris presented the paper "Do early life conditions explain differences in subjective well-being between marriage and cohabitation? A comparison between Australia, the UK, Germany, and Norway".
24 March 2017 Presentation as part of the Social Statistics and Demography Seminar Series. Stefanie Hoherz presented the paper "Differences in subjective well-being between marriage and cohabitation in mid-life in the UK, Australia, Germany, and Norway", at the University of Southampton.
16 February 2017 Presentation at the "Family Inequality: Causes and Consequences in Europe and the Americas" experts meeting held at Roma Tre University. Brienna Perelli-Harris presented the paper "Universal or unique? Understanding diversity in partnership experiences across Europe" at the event.
6 December 2016 Presentation at the "Understanding population change in Europe and China: Sharing research experiences for policy development" event held at the University of Southampton. Brienna Perelli-Harris presented the paper "A snapshot on marriage and cohabitation in Europe."
22-24 September 2016 Presentation at the European Consortium for Sociological Research (ECSR) 2016 Conference held at the University of Oxford. Paper presented by Brienna Perelli-Harris titled "Union status and Income at Mid‐life in the U.S., UK, Germany, and Norway: can selection and childbearing explain the association?" 
12-14 September 2016 Presentation at the BSPS Conference 2016 held at the University of Winchester. Brienna Perelli-Harris presented the paper “Union status and Income at Mid‐life in the U.S., UK, Germany, and Norway: can selection and childbearing explain the association?” co-authored by Fenaba Addo, Stefanie Hoherz, Trude Lappegard and Sharon Sassler at this event.
31 August – 3 September 2016 Presentations at the European Population Conference 2016 held in Mainz, Germany. The paper “Comparing the Benefits of Cohabitation and Marriage for Health and Happiness in Mid-life: Is the Relationship similar across Countries?” written by Brienna Perelli-Harris, Marta Styrc, Fenaba Addo, Trude Lappegård, Sharon Sassler and Anne Evans was presented at this event.
31 March – 2 April 2016 Presentations at the Population Association of America Annual Meeting 2016 held in Washington.  The papers “A Cross-National Comparison of the Consequences of Partnered Childbearing for Mother’s Mid-Life Health” written by Sharon Sassler, Fenaba Addo, Marta Styrc, Brienna Perelli-Harris, Trude Lappegard and Ann Evans and ““Does Marriage Matter?” Revisited: The Fertility, Mortality and Stability of the Swedish 1989 Marriage Boom Cohort” written by Jennifer Holland, Brienna Perelli-Harris and Gunnar Andersson were presented at this event.
23 November 2015 Seminar presentation as part of the INED seminar series held in Paris. The paper "When cohabitation is common, does marriage still matter?" was presented by Marta Styrc.
7 September 2015 Presentation at the BSPS Conference held at the University of Leeds. The paper “Union formation and mid-life well-being is cohabitation as good as marriage” was presented by Marta Styrc.
23 June 2015 Paper presentation at the XII Conference of Young Demographers held in Poznan, Poland. The papers “Union formation and mental well-being: Does marriage matter when cohabitation is common?” coauthored with Brienna Perelli-Harris and “Impact of changes in union formation and dissolution on fertility” were presented by Marta Styrc.



Galezewska, P., Perelli-Harris, B. and Berrington, A. (2017) Cross-national differences in women's repartnering behaviour in Europe: The role of individual demographic characteristics. Demographic Research, 37 (8), 189-228.

Perelli-Harris, B., Berrington, A., Sanchez Gassen, N., Galezewska, P. and Holland, J. (2017) The rise in divorce and cohabitation: Is there a link? Population and Development Review, 43 (2), 303-329.

Perelli-Harris, B. and Styrc, M. (2016) Re-evaluating the link between marriage and mental well-being: How do early life conditions attenuate differences between cohabitation and marriage? CPC Working Paper 75, ESRC Centre for Population Change, UK.

Perelli-Harris, B. and Styrc, M. (2017) Mental Well-Being Differences in Cohabitation and Marriage: The Role of Childhood Selection. Journal of Marriage and Family, (Online early view).

Perelli-Harris, B., Styrc, M., Addo, F., Hoherz, S., Lappegard, T., Sassler, S. and Evans, A. (2017) Comparing the benefits of cohabitation and marriage for health in mid-life: Is the relationship similar across countries? CPC Working Paper 84, ESRC Centre for Population Change, UK.



Global Marriage Trends. BBC World News, 24 November 2016.

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